UCLA will have to adjust to the loss of three key starters if the fourth-ranked Bruins hope to reach a fourth straight Final Four.
They didn’t waste any time putting their reinforcements on display.
Coming off a dominating performance in their season opener, the Bruins look to advance to the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic as they host Miami of Ohio on Thursday night.
For the third straight season, UCLA won the Pac-10 title outright and advanced to the national semifinals in 2007-08, but the Bruins lost three players to the NBA draft, including a pair of top-five overall picks in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.
Coach Ben Howland appears to have reloaded, as a bevy of freshmen announced their arrivals in UCLA’s 82-58 win over Prairie View on Wednesday.
While senior guard Darren Collison led the way with 19 points, freshman Jrue Holiday had 11 points in a starting role while classmate Malcolm Lee added 12 and six rebounds off the bench.
Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and J’Mison Morgan—all freshman—also made appearances, combining for 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
“They played exceptionally well,” Collison said. “They came off the bench and were ready to play. We need that consistently.”
The Bruins led 38-19 at the half and shot 52 percent from the field against Prairie View, but they showed rust in their first meaningful action since a 78-63 loss to Memphis in the national semifinals on April 5. They turned the ball over 24 times as a team, with Collison responsible for six—something he only did once all of last season.
“We could’ve blown them out by 40 or 50 points if we’d played to the best of our ability,” Holiday said. “Today wasn’t one of our best games.”
UCLA will add Nikola Dragovic to its bench for Thursday’s game, as the junior was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery last week and held out of Wednesday’s game. Dragovic played in 25 games last season, averaging 2.5 points.
Miami doesn’t seem likely to present many problems for UCLA, even after the RedHawks beat Weber State 70-66 in their season opener at Pauley Pavilion Wednesday. Miami has lost its last nine games against ranked opponents, while the Bruins have won 29 in a row at home against unranked, non-conference foes.
Still, the RedHawks should be buzzing after Wednesday’s win, when senior guard Kenny Hayes drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to give coach Charlie Coles his 300th career victory. Hayes finished 7-for-7 from beyond the arc and scored 24 points.
Senior Michael Bramos, who led the team with 16.3 points per game last season, added 13 despite shooting just 2-of-11 from the field.
Miami went 17-16 last season and advanced to the Mid-American Conference semifinals before losing to eventual champion Tulsa in the first round of the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.
The winner of the first-ever meeting between the RedHawks and Bruins will advance to the 2K Sports Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden next Thursday to play Michigan.